Last year was the summer of the road trip for those who wanted to travel. With so many international destinations closed to leisure travel, it was a rough summer season for those who wanted to get away. Domestic destinations topped people’s list, and our national parks set records last year. Well…it looks like 2021 is shaping up to be similar.
While there are more international destinations open to travelers, especially those who are vaccinated, domestic travel is still up. Airlines’ domestic schedules may be nearly as busy as they were in 2019. And the National Parks? They are likely to be insanely busy.
Get a Reservation…If You Can
I’ve not been following much news on National Parks travel, but what I have been reading lately is that you will almost certainly need to plan way ahead. Some parks are implementing a reservation system for the 2021 summer travel season. Here’s what you need to know about a few of the most popular in the West:
Yosemite National Park
It’s normally a bit difficult to get a camping reservation in Yosemite in a good year, but you might want to forget about it this summer. There will be a total of 585 camping sites available in Yosemite daily starting July 1. This is over twice what was available last year. The Ahwahnee and Yosemite Lodge are also open.
Day use at Yosemite will use a reservation system, and the number of people allowed in on a daily basis will range from 50-90% of normal capacity. Currently, the park is allowing 70% capacity, which is 5,760 vehicles per day. From May 21 through September 30, you’ll also need to get an advance day-use reservation for your visit. Also note that the shuttle buses will not be operating, which is bound to cause traffic issues, unless capacity is closer to 50%.
My big worry planning a Yosemite vacation would be the capacity issue. What if the park hands out day-use passes for 90% capacity, but then the Mariposa County COVID-19 tier limits the park to 50%? What will they do?
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is a treasure. I fell in love with this amazing park after hiking the Highline Trail back in 2017. The drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road is absolutely magnificent. We unfortunately didn’t climb the ridge during our hike to overlook the Grinnell Glacier, and only having two days here gave us me only a small taste of what Glacier National Park offers.
To even drive the road during summer 2021, you’ll need to make a reservation ahead of time and select when you want to enter. The alternative is making another reservation, such as camping or other overnight accommodations. This requirement will run through September 6, 2021.
I expect Glacier to be extremely popular this summer. I may venture up to Montana to visit friends in July, but I don’t think I’ll be making the 4-hour drive up from the Bitterroot Valley. A return to Glacier National Park will have to wait until another year.
Rocky Mountain National Park
While not quite as exquisite as Glacier National Park, in my opinion, Rocky Mountain National Park is another beautiful option in the Western U.S. I’ve been once, and only for a couple days, to Estes Park and the Bear Lake side of the national park. You’ll need reservations to enter the Bear Lake Road Corridor between 5:00 AM and 6:00 PM from May 28 until October 11. Other places of the park have less stringent restrictions, only requiring reservations between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM.
Check out the park site for information about reservations.
There are other parks that are limiting capacity. Arches National Park filled up yesterday, June 9, prompting the park to temporarily limit entry. We’ll likely see more of this as summer wears on at the more popular parks.
What are your summer travel plans? Do you have any national parks in your sights?